Ed Miliband was right to sack Emily Thornberry from the shadow cabinet because she was “condescending and disrespectful” towards working people and damaged Labour’s election prospects when she tweeted a picture of a house decked out in St George’s flags, Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, has said.
In some of the strongest criticism of the former frontbencher, Reeves said that Thornberry’s tweet was contrary to the values of the Labour party.
Speaking on the Sunday Politics programme on BBC1, Reeves said: “I thought Emily was being condescending and disrespectful of people I went into politics to serve, so I think it’s right that she went. I think it’s right that she’s no longer in her job, because what she was suggesting doesn’t represent the ethos and the values of the Labour party.
“I was angry when I saw it, because I’m working hard, as are other Labour MPs and activists around the country, trying to get a Labour government back in six months’ time and she set that process back.”
Reeves’s strident criticism came as allies spoke out in favour of Thornberry, the former shadow attorney general, who was campaigning in the rain in her Islington South and Finsbury constituency on Sunday.
Ian McLaughlin, the chair of the local Labour party, told the Observer: “I have to say I deplore the actions of some Labour MPs in attacking her. I have been a member of the party since the age of 18 and I’m 65 now, and my belief has always been that if someone in the party is in some difficulty then you help them. That is what being a socialist is all about.
“There has been a lot of support on social media for Emily, particularly from women. The attacks have come from angry white men and the supporters are women. A lot of people in the constituency are disappointed that she has resigned. But what is done is done.”
Thornberry ran into trouble after she tweeted a picture of a semi-detached house draped in English flags with a white van parked outside accompanied by the words “Image from #Rochester”.
Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, told Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics: “I just don’t think it’s for politicians to go around judging the public. It should be entirely the other way around, it’s for the public to judge politicians.
“I just think it’s extraordinary to say anything other than people who work hard, play by the rules should be allowed to get on without politicians taking the mickey out of them.”
David Lammy, Labour’s former universities minister and possible candidate for London mayor, said politicians from “liberal, professional backgrounds” found it hard to identify with ordinary working people. In an article in the Mail on Sunday, he said:
“The Labour party feels culturally adrift, not just from large parts of Britain, but from its own traditional working class base.
“Large parts of the country feel that Labour not only disagrees with them, they think we disapprove of them too.
“A sense of mutual disdain between the mainstream parties and working class England is driving voters away from politics, or towards so-called ‘anti-politics’ parties such as Ukip.”
Lammy, who grew up on a council estate close to Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm, argues that Labour’s “discomfort hinges on immigration”.
“By and large, modern Labour politicians come from liberal, professional backgrounds,” he wrote. “They have benefited from globalisation - they mix in social circles with people who work in multinational firms, enjoy foreign travel and find diversity enriching.
“Much of Labour’s traditional electoral base does not feel this way … Immigration becomes swept up in this story.
“In some areas it adds pressures to housing, or on school places. And people worry about losing a sense of community if new arrivals do not speak the language, or observe the same customs. In short, people feel that globalisation is benefiting others, but not them.
“This is what Ukip is tapping into – and Labour has to have an answer.”
The Tottenham MP added: “Labour lost in Rochester and Strood not because of one tweet but because of a growing perception that the party has lost touch with a large group of its own voters.”
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